Let every flower bloom…

I was walking around my garden. I noticed that every flower blooms irrespective of being big or small, healthy or otherwise. Nature ensures that every plant has a space to grow and it allows it to bloom. You can see this while driving through a forest.

However, I realised that we are different. We have our own mindsets, beliefs and values and we want the world to be our way. Till the recent past, an engineer wanted his son or daughter to be an engineer and a doctor wanted her daughter or son to be a doctor too. We were not even willing to encourage our children to be different from us.

Today the world is changing. Even in India, the current generation is willing to think differently. We are willing to take the unchartered path. Our risk taking ability has improved. We are encouraging to let our children choose subjects they are passionate about and not what we think they should take.

This is a positive first step. Even in families, there is an open dialogue and the future generation is willing to change directions in their lives. It is no longer considered necessary to follow the footsteps of parents or other elders in the family. It is perfectly fine for people to venture into start ups and even fail before they succeed.

As a society, we need to promote this spirit in every walk of life. Our educational system needs to get revamped. Every child in the classroom has to be considered a talent. Some may be good in maths while others may be good in arts and crafts. Our system needs to create an environment where every child blooms like every flower in our gardens.

Organisations are no different. The performance management systems are too rigid and straight jacketed. They look at all employees through one lens. It may be helpful to revamp these systems and processes so that every employee blooms like a flower in our garden. Let organisations believe that every employee is a potential talent. By proper nurturing and enabling, they may sparkle in different areas of work.

As a society, we need to believe that every individual can and will contribute to the larger good, if we are able to allow them the space and the opportunity to succeed. We need to challenge age old traditions and beliefs. We need to adapt to changes in technologies and utilise them optimally for the welfare of humanity.

We need to believe that as individuals, families, communities, societies or even nations, we need not compete with each other to succeed. We need to work together to succeed. We need to believe that every individual, family, community, society or nation can coexist and still be successful. We need not succeed at the expense of one another. We can succeed by enabling one another.

While we can wait for the world to change, it may be easier to start from oneself. Let us create an environment around us in our family and community, where every flower can bloom.

It is time to reset our thinking and let every flower bloom.

S Ramesh Shankar

10th May 2021

Is performance management an art or a science ?

I have been asked this question multiple times in my career. Is managing performance an art or a science ? I would say both. While some aspects of it is a science, other aspects could be an art.

Lets look at every aspect of performance management process. If we take goal setting as the first step, then it is definitely a science where you can link organisational and functional goals to individuals and make them measurable. Many wonder if all goals are measurable. I believe so and it depends on how you set them.

Then if we move to mid term review of performance, it is both a science and an art. Without doubt, the review of performance metrics is a science. But the way we conduct the review is definitely an art.

If we then move to self appraisal, it is also both a science and an art. The ability to introspect and present your performance based on data and metrics is a science but the ability to communicate the same during a dialogue process is an art.

If we move to annual performance review – it is again a hybrid of science and art. We need to be objective and fair in assessment based on data and metrics and hence it is definitely a science. But our ability to have a dialogue with the Appraisee and present it to a performance review group is possibly an art.

Development planning and potential assessment could again be a combination of art and science. While planning has to be scientific, the ability to communicate and enforce the plan is positively an art.

Last but not the least is the feedback diagoue. This is more of an art than a science. While feedback again has to be fair and objective, it is our ability to make it an inspiring dialogue , which enhances its effectiveness. Hence, it is more of an art than a science.

Now one may ask what is difference between science and art in a performance management process. Science is logic, while art is to make the process inspirational. Science makes it fair and objective through use of appropriate data and metrics. Art is our ability to have an open and inspiring dialogue where we can tell the truth without demotivating an employee.

While it may be easier to write on the art and science of performance appraisals, it may be more difficult to practise it. After spending almost four decades practising performance management processes, I can easily state that I am yet to master this art of science.

The day we realise that it is is combination of art and science, we may become more effective as appraisees and appraisers. It is almost like the interview process. Even if a potential employee is not selected, he or she should feel that they just had the best experience of their lives and would definitely love to join this organisation.

As in the photo above, most of us behave like the lion, especially when we play the role of the manager of the appraisee. 

Similarly both the appraisee and the appraiser should feel that they not only enjoyed the performance management process but also felt that is objective, fair and inspirational. This possibly comes from diligent preparation and authentic skills in conversations.

Lets try this year and make a beginning.

S Ramesh Shankar

3rd May 2021

Life is never a full stop.

We do not realise many a time as to when life begins and when it ends. Many of us tend to believe that life begins at birth and ends at our death. It may or may not be true. This is because we do not live life fully till the day we realise what life is ?

I have met people in my life who have worked very hard and toiled their way through ups and downs, sacrificed their lives for their family, relatives or friends but never lived life to its full glory.

I am not advocating leading a self fulfilling life at the cost of others. I am suggesting that one needs to live life the way one would like to without any full stops.

This means we have to believe life may have commas, semi colons and colons but never a full stop. Every obstacle in our life could be an enabler for our resolve to live life fully. Most of us get stumped by the commas and semi colons of life. We need to believe that everyone goes through a “Sonder” in their lives. We are no different. We need to believe that if the sun sets today, it has to rise tomorrow in our lives too.

I do not believe that that the sun sets forever in anybody’s life. All hurdles and challenges are only ephemeral. They will disappear as fast as they appear. If we postpone living life to a tomorrow, it may never come.

We need to live life today and every day of our lives. While yesterday will fade away, sometimes a tomorrow of our choice may be elusive. It may be worthwhile to believe that “today” is the best day of our lives. We also need to believe that there are millions of people around the world, whose lives are more challenging than ours.

A feeling of gratitude for all that we have in life as compared to those millions of have nots may make all the difference to our lives and living. The pandemic today worldwide is a good reminder for all of us for being grateful for all that we have.

Most of us have a place to live in, food to eat, a family to support and friends to cherish. What else can we ask for ? Imagine the plight of the migrant labour who has lost his job in an urban city , then forced to migrate to his village and unable to feed his family and self . Aren’t we better off than most of such stories of people losing lives and livelihood. Isn’t it time for us to rekindle our conscience and bow in gratitude to God.

I have worked and lived in different parts of India. Hailing from a lower middle class family I have worked hard to earn my living. Today when I look back, I realise how fortunate I have been right throughout my life and lived the way I always wanted to. Although, I did not have all the material things I may have desired at the early stages of my life, I always had love and happiness in abundance.

The best is to learn from our kids. Even in the most difficult times, they will find happiness in small things of life and enjoy. It is time to realise that money cannot buy love and happiness.

As in the photo above, irrespective of what others think this girl is admiring her smile.

Let us bow in gratitude and live life to the fullest from today.

S Ramesh Shankar

8th October 2020

Diversity of colours

The festival of “Holi” in India signifies the onset of spring. While there is a story behind the festival, it is celebrated in most parts of India through sprinkling of colours on one another after the burning of Holika and performance of puja.

While the world talks today of DEI ( Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) and most organisations make a fuss about it, India celebrated the festival of Holi over many centuries and celebrated diversity in true spirit every year.

In my view “Holi” signifies equality and equity of all people. It does not differentiate based on religion, caste, creed or socio-economic status. The spirit of this festival is lived in India over generations.

Whether in communities, villages, towns or cities or within the precincts of organisations, everyone is deemed equal and celebrates this festival without any discrimination based on any factor.

I love this festival of colours as it truly represents the spirit of India’s diversity. I have played Holi across the length and breadth of our country. It not only celebrates the onset of spring but also promotes brotherhood and humanism at large.

While some say that the spirit behind this festival of diversity, equity and inclusion may have faded a bit, it is for us as individuals and as a collective to rekindle this spirit and promote the camaraderie in the societies where we live in today.

If we look back at our history as a nation, we have lived harmoniously irrespective of multiple religions, castes and ethnicities, peacefully co-existing over centuries. We have been threatened by invaders time and again and even the British tried to divide and rule but they did not succeed.

Today on the occasion of our 75th year of independence, it is upto us to resolve to preserve and promote this inherent diversity in our society. If there are forces within our society or outside which negate this spirit, we need to challenge them and be proud of our culture and heritage.

I have worked and lived in north, south, west, east and centre of India. I can proudly say that I am an Indian first and then belong to a state or a city. I have lived and thrived in every place I lived and have been respected and regarded by all communities.

Today, we are at a juncture where the world is looking at India and China as the super powers of the future. There could be strategies to derail our growth and development as a nation. But we need to preserve our rich cultural past and create a future of our choice built on this great foundation.

We have 28 states and 8 union territories in India. Each state almost speaks a different language and each of the languages also have multiple dialects. At the national level we use Hindi or English for official communication with the Centre and between states. However, we live and breathe as one nation. This is the spirit of India we can be proud of. Our Constitution guarantees us to live and thrive in any part of India and enjoy our heritage.

Let us continue to celebrate unity in diversity and share the spirit of “Holi” in our everyday lives.

I salute this spirit on the occasion of “Holi” today.

S Ramesh Shankar

7th March 2023

Looks may be deceptive…

A butterfly plant looks so innocuous but has the capacity to attract the best of butterflies all around it (as you can see in the photo above). Life is no different. We meet people who look very simple and unassuming but they have the best talent in the world.

I have experienced this right through my life and career. I have met people from all walks of life. People who are well read and authorities on any subject hardly make their presence felt. The first name which comes to my mind is one of my professors in college. He used to wear simple clothes and even had unkept hair . Anyone who did not know him may not imagine that he was a walking encyclopaedia. We could go and ask him on any subject under the sun. In the days when internet was non existent, he would track information from sources unknown and keep piles of paper and books tattered all around him.

I have a close friend who hails from a remote village in Maharashtra. He studied there and then moved to Mumbai and all over the country and specialised in the field of ERP. Today he has settled down in New Jersey and is a world authority on payroll. His books are published worldwide. If you meet him, you will not be able to make out. He is modest in his dress and demeanour. He is an authority on his subject. You ask him any question on ERP systems and he will either know the answer or find the answer for you.

Another person I have met is the founder promoter of an industrial group in India. They are in the automobile sector and are known for their ethical way of doing business. This leader goes around in a simple kurta and even when he was an active CEO of the group, he would make his presence felt by his absence. His simplicity and ethics inspired you to give your best. I remember an incident when it was his daughter’s marriage and he came to me in my office to request for a photocopier from our office to be installed in his home. He requested me to note the meter number before it is dispatched and on return so that he could pay for the actual use of the photocopier. Such was the simplicity and ethics of this great leader. His looks will never make you believe that he is a billionaire.

If you look at the people in public space who excel in their respective fields too, we realise that it is not their looks which impresses you. Their humility and modesty blows your over. In their presence, we feel insignificant with their ocean of knowledge or expertise. They again prove that looks could be deceptive. A very ordinary looking person may be a super human. A good example for all of us in India from the public figures is our late President Bharat Ratna Dr. Abdul Kalam.

The lessons one can learn from such wonderful human beings is that looks ultimately does not matter. Our work or knowledge or skills can speak for itself as long as our behaviour is impeccable and we have a thirst to learn for life. They excel in whatever they do. They are simple in look, dress and behaviour and very grounded. Their quest for learning is limitless. They are eager to share their knowledge with everyone as they believe that sharing is learning too.

Is it time to look at the mirror.

S Ramesh Shankar

16th July 2020

Mobile & me

I am not sure if my mobile is dependent on me or me on my mobile. In all likelihood, the way I am behaving nowadays I seem to be more dependent on my mobile rather than my mobile on me.

Now the next question to ask is – whether it is good or bad. Most people may say that there is nothing good or bad in life but everything is relative. However, I sometimes wonder what will happen to me if I become too much dependant on any thing or person.

As a kid you may be dependent on your parents, then on your siblings, friends and colleagues in life. As you grow into an adult, you want to be independent in most aspects of your life.

Similarly, today technology gives you many gadgets to make your life easy and comfortable and thats a good development. However, as we tend to become addicted to some of them, then it may be time to reflect and ask a question to ourselves – am I getting addicted to it ?

Today I realised the same and asked myself – am I dependent on my mobile or is it the other way around. I realised that I have become dependant or I may even say addicted to my mobile. Addiction in any form may be more harmful than helpful.

I tend to spend a lot of time on my mobile from the time I get up till I sleep. While I have justifications for all the time I spend, may be it is time to challenge myself. I may feel that I am connected to the world. I get to know what is happening around the world in seconds thanks to the news app.

Similarly I am connected to family and friends all the time and can share my joy and sorrow through social networking apps. The email and communication apps keeps me connected to my world through emails and messages. However, the question I need to ask myself – is it worth all the time I spend on my mobile ?

I need to recall the quality of time I spend with my family and friends in real time. Do I have to time to pick up the phone and talk to people ? Do I remember birthdays or other important occasions of my near and dear ones. Do I surprise friends or family with a personal visit ?

How much time am I able to spend learning new things or living my passion ? Is the mobile phone and other gadgets invading my personal space and thereby reducing the quality of my life.

I have decided to challenge myself and ensure that I use my mobile and other gadgets only to enable me to be more productive. It may be worthwhile from time to time to ask myself – is it time to reset my buttons . There is no absolute in life. Everything is relative and we need to be our own judge. Let not others judge us and give us advice. Let us be our own bosses and steer our life the way we want to.

Is it a good wake up call ?

S Ramesh Shankar

5th April 2021

Time to reset and restart

I started working with computers way back in 1985, when the public sector I used to work for introduced computers for the first time . The computers used to be like a piece of art and kept under velvet covers inside cabins of very senior managers.

As time passed by, we got opportunities to touch and feel computers and today it is almost in the hand of every individual in the form of smart mobiles, laptops or smart notebooks. Today, we possibly cannot think of our lives without the ubiquitous mobile or notebook around us all the time.

One of the fascinating things of a computer is that it is fun and a great aid when it works but it literally puts you out of your senses when it stops. Many of us have become practising hardware or software engineers by chance rather than by choice. We try all our tricks under the trade without knowing much about it. The most often trick applied to reset and restart a computer which is not working is to press the “Control+Alt+del” buttons.

A few days back I realised I need to do the same with myself. I was in the midst of many things happening around me – both personal and work wise and felt that I was getting mentally and physically exhausted. It is at such times, you feel you need to reset and restart your life all over again.

Resetting your life and restarting could be different for different people in their lives. For me, one of the best ways to relax, reset and restart my life is to go on a long drive to a hill or a beach and be with myself amidst nature. I did exactly the same.

I booked a club on a hill resort and drove away from my city for a short break. A beautiful drive along green forests and virgin hills makes you one with nature. The last lap was in the midst of a beautiful green forest and the twining roads of the hills.

I reached my destination safely and in view of the pandemic decided to spend a few days all with myself and my spouse with no agenda and no schedules. We had breakfast, lunch and dinner at the allocated times, looked at the plantations through the balcony, listened to some relaxing music and rested day and night.

I realised just like machines, man also needed to reset and restart his life once in a way. The periodicity may differ from person to person. It is upto you to decide when you need to press the “control+alt+del” in your life. There is no right or wrong time. Each of us have our life keyboard with us and we are the pilots of our own destinies. It is upto us to decide when to start and when to end.

As in the photo above, when three of my classmates met recently we agreed that we need to reset and restart our lives periodically.

Today I feel refreshed and will go back to my regular routine from tomorrow after a nice drive back home again. It is upto you to decide what can help you to relax. As I said, while it is a nice drive and a place close to nature for me, it could be siting at home for you or watching a cricket or football match in a stadium.

Is it time to reset and restart your own life today ?

S Ramesh Shankar

5th April 2021

Double Standards…

I find it amusing when people have different yardsticks for themselves vis a vis others. This phenomenon is seen in families, organisations and society at large. As a parent, I can go anywhere without informing my spouse or other family members but nobody in the family dare do it.

In organisations, we commonly see bosses demanding punctuality, timely submission of reports and so on but feel offended if reminded of not doing the appraisals of their team members on time.

Life appears to be of double standards most of the time. One standard for me and one for others. I may get away with double standards at home as long as I am the oldest and respected but the day my kids turn adolescent they will see through me and I will lose all respect.

Even in the organisation, I may survive till I am able to wield power and authority. The day I get a boss who leads by example and demands the same from others, I am doomed. I wonder how managers and leaders imagine that they can live with double standards for long.

In my book on leadership, we can never have double standards and be inspirational. Whether it is family, organisation or society at large, the concept of double standards is never sustainable. One can fool oneself for sometime and think we can be that way but time will catch up and we will be caught unawares on this front.

Lets examine it in the family space. As a father and being the oldest in the family, I may escape till my spouse rebels some day or my children do. It could also be that my siblings or neighbours, who teach me a lesson and then I change.

In the organisation, people think they can slip through if they hold senior leadership roles. Yes, they survive till the day they get dis-respected or hurt by a feedback from a colleague, customer or supplier. That day will make them change and change for the better. If they dont change, they may lose their leadership position sooner than later.

It is important to realise that leaders are respected not only for results but their behaviour as well. In my book, behaviour is as important as results, if not more. Both in life and career, behaviour will be the ultimate differentiator between good and great people.

Many people go scot free in the short term with double standards. This makes others believe that it is ok to have them. However, it is important to realise that it will never work in the long term. The sooner we realise it, the better it is for us and others around us.

We can never have two standards for anything. All standards for life are absolute and it is the same for everyone irrespective of social level, position, race, colour or nationality. The day we realise this basic tenet of life, we may realise our full potential.

As in the photo above, it is like my advising others to take a metro to reduce carbon footprint but I drive my own car every day of my life.

We need to remember there can never be double standards for anything in life.

S Ramesh Shankar

22nd February 2021

Silent Contributors

I was watching a video explaining the value of gratitude in life. I realised that many of us are not grateful to the people around us amongst family, friends and colleagues, who have transformed our lives from childhood. But apart from the visible people around us, there are so many silent contributors, who impact our lives every day.

Today I thought let me recall the “Unsung heroines and heroes in our lives.” If I start my day with a morning coffee, I need to be grateful to the milkman and the newspaper vendor, who quietly delivers my needs every day without fail. Whether a pandemic or not, the milkman or newspaper boy has never taken leave.

Then if I am taking a cab or auto or bus to my workplace, these drivers have faced the wrath of the weather or the pandemic and still are there for us to take a comfortable ride to work or any place of our choice.

The vegetable vendor, the e commerce delivery girls and boys have served us without expecting anything in return. Have we ever thought about being grateful to them in our lives. We almost take them for granted.

The Presswala, who irons my clothes, the Gardner, the house helpers, car cleaners, the security guards in my premises and the maintenance staff in my community and at my workplace have never taken a break so that we are always comfortable.

If any of my appliances at home break down I am eagerly waiting for the service technician whether it is a weekday or the weekend. The entire service community serves us day in and night out and we never bother to acknowledge their efforts.

Let us think of the government servants. The public health staff, the doctors, health workers, nurses, policemen and women are working for us 24 x 7. We almost take it for granted as if they are paid to work for us. Have we ever bothered to bow in gratitude to them.

Another important segment is the people who support us and enable us to succeed behind our back. They could be our teachers, who sacrifice their lives to ensure the success of their students. Many a time, the people who contribute a lot to our success never take credit for the same. I salute the faceless people, whom we may never come to know as to how much they made a difference to our lives.

Many of us tend to forget the people who have made us who we are today. It may be a good idea to visit our school teacher or an old neighbour or an aging aunt who helped us during our childhood. Expression of gratitude makes you feel humble and grounded. I recently visited a few friends and relatives and thanked them and they felt very nice about it.

Last but not the least, let us remember the soldiers on the borders from our armed forces who relentlessly sacrifice their comforts for our safety. They are there round the year and even sacrifice their lives so that we are safe as an individual and as a nation.

As in the photo above, the security guards in our community served us 24×7 always with a smile.

The list is endless. We need to be grateful to the family, friends and colleagues who are around us and visible to us every day. We also need to salute the silent contributors to our lives every day. It is important to remember that they serve us without expecting anything in return.

Is it time to bow in gratitude ?

S Ramesh Shankar

19th Feb 2021

Sparks of brilliance…

All of us have genes of brilliance ingrained in us. It is like the diamond hidden in the carbon below the earth. We need to keep looking within and one day we may find to our surprise what we are brilliant at.

It is generally our parents or teachers who find the gems in us. They look at every child as a potential and look for what we are good at. As we grow up, they make us realise our potential. However, as we become adults and work in organisations or even on our own, we either tend to forget our potential or do not find a mentor who can see that in us.

I realise that everyone of us has sparks of brilliance and it is upto someone to help us discover it. So, all of us as parents, teachers, friends, colleagues, bosses or even neighbours have a responsibility to help individuals discover their full potential.

Every child is born with innate talent. If someone in their life is able to help the child realise that capability through careful mentoring and support, then they become gems in life. Otherwise, that potential goes waste and neither we nor others benefit from it.

It is like any team game. In football, cricket or hockey, it is the coach, who helps every player reach their full potential. If the coach is not a great motivator, a true friend, a wonderful teacher or a mentor who never gives up, the best of every player is never seen. On the other hand, ordinary teams show sparks of brilliance when they have a great coach.

I have seen repeatedly in life that great parents or teachers transform the lives of children and bring out the best in them. Similarly great coaches make ordinary teams look extra ordinary. Similarly great bosses, make ordinary employees perform superbly.

On the other hand, a negligent teacher, an impatient parent or poor boss can make individuals less confident of themselves and we may never be able to discover our true worth.

As an employee throughout my life, I have learnt that the best in me came out when I was given the freedom to experiment, the luxury to fail and the time to discover myself. Every manager has a role to play to treat every individual in their team as an unique potential talent.

Every one of us has something within us. We need the right environment to flourish and encouragement to fail and learn. The recognition that we are capable of much more than we have done so far will be of immense help.

Every word of encouragement motivates us. Every act of support enables us to try our best. Every recognition of minor accomplishments makes us excel in whatever we do. It is people around us who make us what we truly are. Of course, we need to put our best foot forward.

As in the photo above, every mother discovers the brilliance in her child.

The light within us is always burning. We just need to ignite the spark and then we realise that the flame can be brighter than we thought and makes us realise our best.

Let us discover the best in us today.

S Ramesh Shankar

21st February 2021